Driving out of the small town of Hanksville, Utah, I gaze out my window at this foreign landscape. Various geologic formations make me think that I’m no longer on earth. James informs me that the grey coloration, and the out of this world rock formations are the Mancos shale, a sight that I have yet to come across in my life. My thoughts begin to wander: we are going to a farm? On this grey, desolate, barren landscape, how could anyone get anything to grow in this moonlike soil? I begin to drift off further away from my seat in the van, deep with thoughts of doom and gloom over the past weeks readings regarding the future of our planet, society, and the world my grandkid may get born into. Little did I know a start to the solution awaits me…
It is estimated that life began on Earth around 3.8 billion years ago. Since the first signs of life entered the fossil record, there have been five mass extinctions where large sums of species abruptly vanished. We as humans are currently causing the six mass extinction. Around 27,000 species go extinct every year, and in the past hundred years alone, the species extinction rate has increased a 1,000 times that of background rates typical in Earth’s history. This is primarily due to the fact that one third of the land area on earth has been converted to agriculture and urbanization.
We can’t afford to convert much more land for agriculture, because habitat loss for species of the world is so severe. In the last fifty years, topsoil has been lost at a rate of 760 million tons per year, while there are more hungry mouths to feed. Mother Earth hasn’t even begun to show her true wraith and powerful potential. When she decides to punish us for our actions, her power will be felt on every corner of the globe. This large-scale destruction of the natural world is primarily accredited to our species fundamental tendency to produce, consume, and create greed, and corruption with minimal concern for the future.
As my senses come back to me, I feel the van slowing down. Out my window I read “Mesa Farm” painted on a building not much larger than a two-car garage. The van doors jerk open; students begin pouring out with excitement for fresh food. Walking from the van, I observe a lush green pasture covered with goats, apple trees growing further off to the right, and another field working its way to maturity, as it is still only early April. Very impressed at the feat of growing anything in this desert, I step inside, to be greeted by a fresh tray of cinnamon rolls that myself and 17 others thoroughly enjoy. The room is simple, white walls covered with shelves stacked high with various appliances and utensils. A wall separates the front, from the back, a counter top with only a cash register. Maps, pictures and other random items hang from the walls. A deep freezer in the corner makes up the room, it appears to be everything the owner needed and nothing more. From the back walked up Randy Ramsley, who couldn’t have been more then five feet off the ground, with grey hair and a baseball hat on. He gave a friendly hello! I made eye contact with him; his eyes were filled with welcome, warmth, and excitement. It wasn’t more then a minute since I first stepped inside, and Randy began to unleash years of knowledge, wisdom, and philosophy to unready ears.
Mesmerized by Randy’s words, it was hard to take it all in. He began with a story on the challenges of converting a desert to a farm with no support from a hostile community. I thought that if Randy could do it, then anyone could if they set their mind to it. Randy’s farm is fully sustainable, exactly what we need to solve many of the issues that haunts me especially preservation of our oh-so-precious soil. He quickly changed to address many problems our society is face with today, “a new transition that were moving into, a real appreciation for health and good food. Problem that were faced with is that we have extracted all our resources, used all our water, topsoil is depleted, so now we have to deal with this hindrance of reestablishing food, so that’s why sustainability is so big!”
Coincidently, this is much of what my mind had drifted to on the van ride here. At this point, proposals to remedy our crisis began to pour out. He depicted his recent walk through a rich community in Los Angeles. He saw perfectly trimmed hedges, and lush green lawns in a city where the west coast drought is taking its toll. A city where much of the water is from the Colorado Plateau! He said, imagine if this soil, and places where degradation and urbanization has already affected the landscape was used to grow food to eat? Imagine if large-scale urban farming was taken by storm across the major cities of the world. This way, habitat loss would decrease, and water stress on the Colorado Plateau would be relieved. Utah could reap the benefits, because currently 80% of all water is used for big business agriculture.
He went quiet to let it sink it… I pictured New York, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Cleveland, Atlanta, Salt Lake covered with gardens. If Randy can turn a desert that didn’t even look like Earth into a farm, then I’m sure its possible to grow food in large cities. My mind then went to rooftops, lawns, backyards, windowsills, everywhere there was room to, there was food being grown. The impact this would have on the fossil fuel industry would be incredible. Simply less trips to the grocery stores, less packaging, manufacturing, decrease in cross-country shipping, the list goes on and on, a snowball effect of progress.
Randy then informed the group on the psychology of the big business agriculture in America. They export corn, hay, and soybeans outside the U.S. putting farmers in foreign countries out of business to increase the demand. This process is aided by our governments subsidies on agriculture, much like the grazing and mining subsidies that we have all read about. He the exclaimed that, “Sustainable agriculture, community agriculture, local agriculture, is the redeeming element in our society today. We have to go back to sustainable agriculture, urban sustainable agriculture, because we can’t keep growing hay and shipping in to China.” It won’t solve all our problems, I’ve realized, but sustainable agriculture is the first step to a sustainable future.
I began to think that Randy couldn’t be the first person to realize this, but he may be the first to realize how to instate this storm across our society today. At this point I had my phone out to record the wise words of Randy Ramsely. What he said next bestowed a sense of optimism, hope and promise for the future, to each and every member of the group. He couldn’t have said it to a better crowd hoping for change. The room was filled with people from all over the country: California, Montana, Minnesota, Arizona, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Massachusetts, and New Jersey. He gave us hope and particularly myself hope because I have been wrestling a lot over the future,
“Every Person has the innate ability to energetically impact everything and everyone around them. You have the power to manifest this energy in all your life experiences. This energy and vision for values is available to us, and expressing your vision for values peacefully is the key, because you can’t legislate values, its impossible! Values start at the bottom with you like you all, and work its way up. I’ve done my best to place my values in the eyes of others and see if they will grow, I urge you all to do the same. If we can bring our energy into our society on a individual level and radiate this energy out, then we can probably save the planet.”
I will carry these words with me for the rest of my life. I already plan to start a garden as soon as I get out in May. Over time, as I learn and progress I hope it will grow into something spectacular. When I have my own family, I’m going to grow as much food as I can, because I’ve realized now that by not growing my own food I’m contributing to habitat loss, soil degradation, fueling the energy demand and the water crisis. I’m basically paying big corporations to do all the horrible things that have been haunting me about my grandkid’s opportunities in this world. With my new set of values, I’m going to do everything I can to place them in the eyes of others in hopes that they will grow.